Danish Canadian Museum Advent Calendar December 15, 2020
ORIGIN OF THE MARZIPAN PIG
As you know from the previous Advent how the pig has been an important animal for centuries, and its meat has been enjoyed from rich to poor in the society. The pig has had a central place at the Yule table (Old Norse: Jól) since the holiday was celebrated for the very first time, and because Christmas has its roots in Norse paganism, it is only natural that it has inherited some of the earlier traditions.
When an animal as the pig has such great importance to society, traditions, myths, and sagas, become a big part of the celebration of the pig. The significance of the pig can be traced back to the Viking age, were the people in Scandinavia would butcher a pig in the celebration of Yule.
In the old Norse sagas, there is a pig called Sæhrímnir who lives in the great halls of Valhalla (Pagans’ version of heaven). Sæhrímnir is a magical pig because the meat from this pig can feed the entire population of Valhalla. Every time the cook named Andhrímnir slices a piece from its meat, it grows back instantly.
WHAT IS A MARZIPAN PIG?
The marzipan pig is a very old traditional Northern confectionery, which has made during the Christmas month for more than a century. In Scandinavia, it is a tradition to use the marzipan pig, as an almond present for the dish risalamande during Christmas Eve. In Germany, the marzipan is given at New Year’s to symbolize good luck for the coming year, a good luck pig (In German: Glücksschwein).
WHEN WAS MARZIPAN INVENTED?
Marzipan was allegedly invented in the Persian Empire during the 6th century. The knowledge of the marzipan would spread from Persia to the Byzantine empire. During the Crusade of the Holy land in the 12th century, the Europeans learned about the marzipan and brought the knowledge back with them.
However, the origin of marzipan is highly debated, and there are multiple opinions on how and where it was invented. In Spain, a lot of people is of the opinion, that marzipan was invented in the 11th century in the city of Toledo. When there was a famine in the town, and one of the nuns came up with the idea to bake a loaf of bread from an almond paste with sugar.
In Italy, it is believed that marzipan was invented by accident during medieval times in the city of Venice. When a baker’s daughter had by a mistake chopped too many almonds and mixed it with sugar and water.
The Germans also have their own story on how marzipan was invented. In Germany, it is firmly believed that it was a German chef named Frantz Marcip, that had invented marzipan during the 17th century for a party.
WHY IS IT CALLED MARZIPAN?
It is strange that so many languages in Europe almost have the same name for marzipan, as the shortlist below shows.
However, there could be a simple reason for this, and the word marzipan could originate from how it was packaged during the middle ages. Allegedly the marzipan was sold in small packages, decorated with a small image from either a coin from the Byzantine Empire or a coin from the Republic of Venice.
Allegedly the price for one of these boxes with marzipan was one mautheban, which was one of the coins from the Republic of Venice with an image of Christ sitting on a throne. So, the name marzipan might originate from the price, and the packaging, from when it was sold in the beginning.
INGREDIENTS IN MARZIPAN
There are typically three main ingredients in marzipan, sugar, almonds, and a little rose water. The distinctive taste that makes the marzipan taste so good, comes mainly from the bitter almonds. Every marzipan bar normally contains about 4-6% bitter almonds. When you want to make a marzipan pig, you can choose among the two different types of marzipan, pure marzipan, or marzipan for baking. Most people use pure marzipan because it is not necessary to do any baking to make the marzipan pig.
MARZIPAN CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU
While marzipan contains a lot of sugar, it is actually good for you in small doses if you have constipation. Before the overseas trade with both America and the East Indies began to take off, marzipan was sold at the pharmacy, along with wine, liquor, spices, and confectionery. However, marzipan was expensive, and it was only the upper-class that could afford to purchase it.
MARZIPAN CANDY IS POPULAR DURING CHRISTMAS
It was in the first half of the 19th century, that marzipan for Christmas (in Danish: Jul) began to become indispensable for the upper-class in the Northern European society. People would either purchase figures made from marzipan and hang them on the Christmas tree (In Danish: Juletræet) or make the marzipan figures themselves. The marzipan figures, such as the marzipan pig, would hang on the tree during the month of December, and then be eaten at Christmas Eve.
THE MARZIPAN PIG IS USED AS A PRESENT
In Denmark, it is a tradition to eat rice porridge with almonds called risalamande each year at Christmas Eve. In the pudding , there is a hidden almond, and whoever finds this almond will get a marzipan pig as a present.
THE BEST MARZIPAN TO MAKE FIGURES
Before we can begin making a marzipan pig, we obviously need some marzipan. We can either make the marzipan ourselves or choose the easy solution and purchase some ready-made marzipan. There are many different brands to pick from, and you can just get your favorite one.
Personally, I have tried a bunch of different ones, on my hunt to find the best marzipan, and my journey led me to try some of the worst marzipans that had a weird chemical aftertaste.
I always fell back to the same brand "Odense Marcipan” which has some of the best marzipans, at least in my eyes. Or, I make my own the homemade one tastes fabulous and is quite simple. You can purchase one or more packs or you can make your own recipe is attached below, so you can get started on making your own marzipan pig for Christmas.
There are two ways to make the marzipan pig, you can choose to form one with your hands, or you can use a marzipan pig mold, or you can buy one.
HOW TO MAKE A MARZIPAN PIG
Marzipan is used to decorate cakes, make candies, and as an ingredient in some dessert recipes. Good quality marzipan is expensive and somewhat hard to find... unless you make your own. With less than 10 minutes of active work, homemade marzipan is simple and delicious.